Looking for something out of the box to give the kiddies for next Christmas (or their next birthday)? This grandma’s Christmas Adventure Box idea is bound to put a smile on tiny faces all year long.

Every year after the mad Christmas morning rush, my house looks like a toy store exploded in our living room. In addition to the surplus of talking dolls and oversized inflatables, there’s the mountains of wrapping paper, plastic moulds and boxes that the kids leave behind in the wake of their toy mania.

Grandma’s big adventure

One very clever Nonna came up with a brilliant Christmas gift for her grandsons that we are definitely adding to Santa’s list for next year. It doesn’t involve toys, plastic moulds or batteries. And it’s something that the entire family can enjoy throughout the year.

Image via Darlene Howell Waller

Meet the Adventure Box – a standard box filled with 12 brown paper envelopes, each labelled and decorated. Each envelope contains everything the family needs to enjoy a monthly activity.

The gift of time

One month it’s bowling and laser tag, complete with tokens to the gaming area. Another month it’s movie tickets. There’s a trip to the horse stables, spending money for a day at Disneyland and tickets to a ball game.

Christmas adventure box
Image via Darlene Howell Waller

But here’s the kicker – the kids don’t open every envelope on Christmas Day. They open one envelope on the first day of each month, meaning every month they get a surprise and a family adventure.

She even includes a note, explaining that, “this year, my sweet boys, I give you the gift of time.” Because, let’s face it, the best gift of all is the gift of spending time with the ones you love.

Adventure Box letter
Image via Darlene Howell Waller

Darlene Howell Waller shared her idea on Facebook and the world has gone mad for it. And rightfully so – what a brilliant way to bring the family together, not just for Christmas, but for every month of the year!

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start planing our Adventure Box ASAP. Just after I finish cleaning up all the leftover wrapping paper…

Looking for more ways to make Christmas extra special this year? Check out these 11 magical traditions to take on this Christmas

Looking for more alternatives to toys? Here are seven ideas that aren’t toys to get you started.

Read more: 

Author

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

85 Comments

  1. LOVE this idea! Thank you so much for sharing! Do you mind sharing what was in each of the 12 envelopes? I loved the few adventures that you did mention! Thank you!

    • Maybe rather than buying it all at once, start now. Buy a January gift for Jaunary 2020 in January 2019 and February 2020’s gift is purchased in February 2019 and so forth. Helps spread out the cost somewhat. 😉

      • I love how people find negativity in everything. It’s called an idea and opinion. If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all. This is a great idea and making memories is priceless. It doesn’t cost money to go hiking or ride a bike through the park or etc…. the kids these days are all about technology.

          • BonnieNot everything cost money.

            Not everything cost money, such as:
            A day at the Park,
            Movie night at home with their favorite dinner,
            Baking Christmas cookies
            Carving pumpkins
            Throw in what you can afford. Kids need time more than money spent. Don’t forget to put away the electronics and spend quality time.

    • In response to the ” really expensive ” comment/s – christmas is about giving, and big or small this can be accomadated according to budget easily, and envelope xan say picnic at the adventure park in the next suburb/town over, go on a hike, camping adventure, a night of fishing, bake goodies together such as cake and cookies, you could easily think pf in expensive ways to fill them up with promises to spend extra special family time together once a month , i know that you may do this already but taking the time to pre plan, print out photos of a new.fishing spit you’ve never been, a new hime trail ypu have never tried, etc….

      Just my thoughts anyhow….

      • You just gave some excellent ideas Hollie that we can all afford. Thank you !

      • Exactly what I was thinking. These monthly gifts can be very inexpensive.. February can be hot chocolate/cookies/movie night..(send a movie or ticket to red box..box if hot chocolate..they can buy it bake cookies). Loving this idea!!!

    • You could do even a few …….would not have to be the entire year of them…….i like the idea but could not afford 12 months myself……but will do some for their birthday months and summer months, when they have no school…….

    • I very much agree! I would definatly have to tweak it to fit my budget! I think instead of horseback riding (which is expensive!) Just a picnic would be nice, or just bowling not bowling AND laser tag, a movie night at the house instead of the theater.

    • You can do inexpensive stuff, a hike, a day at the park, an art project together! All kids want is your time.

    • If you plan a year before and each month get something it won’t be that expensive

    • Doesn’t have to be expensive…could be fly a kite, bake cookies, go on a hike, have a picnic, go to the library or the park…etc

    • You can always choose free things. Kids just want to spend time with you. Games, arts and crafts, rent a movie, make pizza together.

    • Tamara Collins Reply

      Choose some simpler ideas. Picnic at the Lake, Visit to a Museum, Hike in the mtns., day, Cooking pizza etc.

    • You can do activities that cost nothing…
      Or very little…
      1. Community pool with nan
      2 community skating rink with nan
      3. Movie night with nan
      4. Lunch/Burger joint with nan (
      5. Playground
      6. Reading at library/chapters
      7. Tobogganing
      8. Bike riding on trail
      9. Visiting local animal shelter
      10. After school ice cream
      11. Visit zoo
      12. Visit museum
      13 visit science center
      Just suggestions as I’m sure you do many of these things on the regular with your kids as a parent…. but my kids love doing these things with grandma so they get to Experience with grandma/ just spend time with grandma/ show off their skills. We do tell our kids that their grandma won’t be around forever… so to make memories with her when they can.(they unexpectedly lost their grandad who they adored a few years ago so they feel this statement)

      • Take them
        camping
        fishing
        Zoo
        Train ride
        Road trip
        Beach
        Lake
        Pool
        Water park
        The ideas can be endless

    • Everything is expensive Even the toys on the floor. This is something they will remember. One year I told each one of my 9 grandchildren they could pick one thing to do with me. Some got crazy trip skiing in Colorado, Disney cruise,, zoo shopping trip. Good memories forever. It’s all what you want them to remember. It will not be the toy on the floor.

  2. I would love to do this for our grandkids, but with 6, this could get expensive. Any great ideas for less expensive monthly surprises?

    • I think a family game night like Uno could be fun,or a craft activity,movie night with their favorite snack of course! These would be less expensive and can include children of all ages

      • Love love this! Not sure why people are thinking this is expensive. Use your imagination people! Bake cookies, play a board game, create a scavenger hunt, take a nature hike, make shadow figures, build a fort/tent in the living room out of blankets and chairs. Kids dont care- just give your time.

    • Use the dollar tree for activities and fun surprises /crafts

    • Robin.. look above for comments on inexpensive monthly gifts..
      Do they do DIY crafts…use popsicle sticks/paint/glue/glitter.. have them make Ty cards in January for people..

    • Instead of going to the movie theater why not have a movie night at your house instead!
      Make popcorn and drinks (redbox is cheap to rent a dvd) or plan it on a night a movie will be shown on tv

      They mentioned a picnic and horseback riding, why not just do the picnic! Even if just snacks instead of a meal

      Many libraries offer free summer programs, craft days, or story time.

      Look at your local places and see if there are any free/reduced days! We have the Indianapolis children musuem and one day a month it’s only $2 each to get in.

      Look on groupon! They always have good deals for places like bowling, mini golf, private owned zoo’s for nearly half the cost!

    • What about things like a sleepover and cooking their favorite meal,; teaching them a special skill or trick you’re famous for (do you draw, knit, carve wood?); if they are young, promise to come to their school and read a book of their choice to their class (of course, confirm it’s ok with teacher); learn a new skill together; have a home movie night with popcorn (Jiffy POP is cool for kids!) and a box of candy and pillows and blankets; find out when a nearby museum may have a free admission day, or check whether your library offers museum passes to borrow. Those kinds of things are special for kids but inexpensive.

    • Do it as a family gift. Have them spend the night each months and in the envelope tell what they’re doing w you. Baking cookies, sets/crafts/coloring/painting, board games/card games, park &picnic, etc. The parents have a date night each month w not children and the children get to be just a the gparent(s). Have a month in there where they all get a small surprise like get to pick out something from five-below or the dollar tree/family dollar & order pizza. Just think about the gift you your time. Sometimes little people need to just go through your old photo books and hear stories or volunteer w you, go hiking, play at the park, or play old games you have like bocce, croquet, or horseshoes—all games you need multiple people. Set up a scavenger hunt around your house and have a treasure box of chocolates or $5 dvd to watch. Anything you do will be magical bc YOU did it!

    • I have 29 grandchildren, all over the US and Canada. Any ideas for me?

      • Sherry Brock Reply

        Wow you are truly blessed. I have long distance grandchildren too. I am wondering about long distance ideas as well.

      • A personal letter referencing special memories, words of wisdom, stories of their parents and grandparents, words of encouragement, so many things that can be changed each year to suit the child at that particular stage of life from a loving Grandmother would be a priceless gift that will be treasured for a lifetime. 29 grandchildren…what a beautiful legacy. Only five for me so far but nothing makes me smile more than the thought of each of them and how special each is in their own individual way.

    • Amen I agree that all these little kids want is a few minutes of our time. God Blessed us with them so we need to take the time to Bless them with at least one special day out of the month to do something with them but of course I feel that everyday is a special day because God has taken care of us he woke me up this morning and my grand babies so to me just getting to see their faces and smiles when we are cleaning,baking,shopping,at the park, watching a movie on tv with pop corn, so I know I can afford 12 months out of the year just to make smiles on their faces and not cost a dime extra just to be there with them is a Blessing and the same for them I ask my grandkids what we could do this month that would be a fun thing to do and they said just getting to spend time with you grandmas and that was enough to warm my heart and be thankful to God that he Blessed me with my 7 beautiful grandchildren because if they are happy I’m happy so thank you for coming up with this idea I will be doing it to be doing something special for 12 months out of the year that when I’m gone on they can remember on that special day (say in August we all got together and made momow a special birthday cake and we all had a party and celebrated her 100 th birthday that God Blessed her with) so yes I’m a firm beleaver in this idea and Thank you for coming up with it.

      • I have done this for the last 3 years with my Grandsons and they love it. I look for free/low cost events and throw in 1-2 things like bowling, mini golf throughout the year. Movies under the stars at the park, library story time with a trip to the playground, a local candy company does free tours with a treat at the end, museums have free (or very low cost days), a ferry ride with a picnic ($2 each). Take some time and research and it can be done on a budget. As it says, you are really giving the “Gift of Time”…quality time spent together.

    • Bake cut out cookies and decorate.
      Rent a movie of their choice & have popcorn & fudge or root beer floats
      Make homemade individual pizzas and play board/card game
      Picnic at a park with all foods kids love & then have s’mores over the fire even in the middle of the day
      Google “free activities near me” and plan months based on what is offered- make a special treat to share with them following the activity
      Have any friends that have a boat on a lake? If so offer to pay for a tank of fuel if they would be willing to pull the kids around on a tube for a couple hours then picnic with them
      Look up kids crafts on Pinterest and based on that find a reasonable activity to do with them
      In the fall go to a local pumpkin farm or corn maze as these are inexpensive and then they get a mini pumpkin to decorate with paint/markers/glitter glue, etc.

  3. Please share ideas. My daughter has three kids ages 6, 4 and 3. Some thoughts come to mind are go to the park with Gammy and then for ice cream. Another is bowling. How about one envelope for date night for mom and dad and Gammy babysits and has a movie night. I too am trying to think of ideas that don’t cost a lot of money. My daughter specifically asked this year that we don’t buy toys but experiences. To make this more cost-effective I think you could put in two or three things that would involve some money such as signed up for swim lessons or go to the pottery place and paint pottery. I would love to hear other ideas!

    • You might like to buy them an annual subscription to your local toy library so the kids get the experience of quality toys without the consumerism/storage/expense/wastefulness involved with buying them. It is also an ‘experience’ becoming part of the toy library community, meeting new people, and learning that we don’t need to own everything.

    • Candy.. I’ve thought about making Ty cards as a family craft for gifts received.. paper bags from grocery stores can be used for the cardstock. A couple pieces of pretty papers usually 50¢> hours construction paper etc . Popsicle sticks to frame a photo for Gramma doing something in her adventure box.

      • My Great grandchildren are in Tennessee,California & Florida
        How can I do this?
        I am sending $2 bills in a Christmas card & going to send them my phone # so they can call me once a month & tell me about their lives.. I love them but I am almost 80 & cannot travel nor afford to send gifts..
        Any suggestions for how I can improve my gift?

  4. What about ice cream. If your local ice cream place is too expensive grab a half gallon get bowls and spoons and take him to the park. Put a thing if sprinkles in a bag

    Geocaching has free geocaches. Which is like a modern day scavenger hunt.

    Bake cookies put a cookie cutter in a bag

    Make a treasure map and hide a lunch or other activity

    Teach old games hopscotch jacks

    Build paper boats

    Have a game night, put a bag of microwave popcorn

    Make paper airplanes and have contests. Put paper in a bag

    Go to the thrift shop and get a funky accessory or shirt and then go window shopping through the mall wearing it

    Paint ornaments

    Paint rocks and leave in public. This is actually a thing you can look it up

    Get a hot chocolate or make it and the walk-through a favorite spot

    Save or get some big boxes and make a tent in the livingroom and camp out

    Make a movie

    Have a water balloon fight

    Take lots of pictures of everything you’ve done the year and spend one time making a scrapbook. If you can’t afford a scrapbook then get folders and put paper in there and make it that way.

    Plus if you do some tokens or pictures of what you will do you can spread Christmas out moneyeise too

    • I love these ideas. I too hope she will share what was in each envelope!

  5. Penny Gibbs Reply

    Thats the handwriting of a gramma lol! Great idea tho.

    • I thought the same. Where’d the 15 yr old grandma get the $ for this??

      • Time spent together filling in a “family tree”

        Make homemade ice cream.

        Prepare snacks and deliver to a senior citizen…..

    • Well, my handwriting looks almost exactly like the letter shown, and I’m a 58 year old grandma of 5 adorable kiddos! You’re probably comparing this letter, to the way OUR grandma’s handwriting looked, and, i know both of my grandma’s had atrocious handwriting….(and their spelling was pretty atrocious too! ) But, most of the grandma’s of today’s youngest generation of little humans, were raised in the 60’s, and 70’s…so, our hands are still pretty steady, and not too arthritic, yet.. With any luck, those problems will have better solutions by the time they start causing issues for us! Enjoy your day, and have a great Christmas!

  6. Ideas…
    have a tie dye day and make your own shirts or socks,
    make steppingstones for outside,
    have your family picture taken (local photographers often have ‘mini sessions’ that are not as expensive and can be very fun!),
    Take a dance class together,
    Try a new restaurant out,
    Let your children plan your whole meal… and then actually eat what they have planned. They LOVE it!
    A trip to the book store,
    A ferry ride,
    Sand in the city or the local beach,
    A local fair with a concert, or
    Go to a movie.
    Really the list is endless and if your looking for less expensive you can/have to plan ahead and watch for sales. Zoo tickets often have discounts for other zoos on the back.

  7. Can you share what the twelve envelopes are? Would like to start working on this now!

  8. Great Idea. I wasn’t ever this organized.
    We would do a park crawl. 30 minutes in a park then on to another one in our town Lunch in the park we packed. Purchase coffee cups at Dollar Tree and decorate with chalk board paint.
    Learn cooking. Made homemade noodles, cookies, artichoke dip and other family favorites.
    Create thank you cards to send to someone special or a birthday card. Cards for shut ins from church.
    Fishing
    Making cookies and delivering to others
    Christmas caroling to friends at their home. 2 songs and off to another home.
    A mixture of fun and thinking of others.
    Now all of my grandchildren are in college or the business world. Enjoy a quiet spot talking to them.

  9. My husband can get very boring. I think I am going to make one of these for his present. So many ideas will work for a couple too. This is such a great idea.

  10. Maw maw Bridget Reply

    Wonderful idea thanks for sharing. I try to spend as much time as I can with my grandkids. This will really help.

    • Read the comments. There are many, many choices of almost no cost ideas! Focus on the positive and what you can do instead of what you can’t do.

  11. Some grandparents might have too many grandkids to commit to doing something with all of them every month, but even just one carefully thought out activity would be appreciated and remembered by the recipients. Love everyone’s ideas and suggestions – so many ideas which, rather than requiring big $$$, just need a bit of forethought, planning, patience and good humour! And I love how the special presentation of a voucher in an envelope – with or without accessories depending on the activity – makes it look fabulous from the get go.

  12. Wow….this is a perfect fun-filled gift that can last a whole year! I appreciate the other ideas that are less expensive also.
    I have to make a list of all of the ideas coming into my head!! Thanks so much♡

    • I love this idea! I am a nana to ages 8, 4, 2 and new born. I am also recently retired and on a very limited income. I get the concern regarding the expense so why not include what you would also spend on the parents. After all, most of them are hard to buy for because they just buy what they want when they want it and most of their wants are too expensive for my budget. The movie night could include a sleepover for the kids which would allow a night out for the parents. I usually buy a coupon book from my grandson in August and it would be easy to look through it and include those coupons for a buy one get one free. Easy to include a trip to the library and stop on the way home for ice cream with a coupon. Would love all suggestions.

      I am fortunate to live very close to my grands at the moment so these ideas would be doable.

      In January, help them make Valentines and send them to widows at church.
      Take a trip to the 5 and below store, buy a game and have a pizza or taco night and play the game.
      In February make bird seed pine cones for their back yard.

      Keep the suggestions coming please.

  13. I would add some free things in this as well. My granddaughter loves hiking and street festivals,. We go on picnics at area parks. I’ll print a nature scavenger hunt or we’ll hike and since she has a camera, she will take pictures of plants and bugs, then we try to identify them. Anything to spend time with them is always amazing!

  14. Great idea! What size are the envelopes and how did you make them?

  15. Where did you find your envelopes or did you make them!
    Thank you for the great ideas

  16. I did something similar to this when my kids were young. In each ones Christmas stocking, I put a credit card sized “Family Fun Club” card with an activity for each month listed on the back. Some were free, some involved mini day trips. They also had stickers to put beside each month after we completed it.

    I’m now looking forward to planning our Grammy & Grandpa’s Adventure Box for our grandsons. It’s such a great way to keep Christmas excitement all year long and make special memories with the grands.

    • Vicky Graybeal Reply

      I found miniature envelopes on the Wish app that would be the perfect size for this. It’s a great idea and I would love to do it…if I had grandchildren!

      • Sherry napier Reply

        Find a child that needs a grand parent . Check with the boys and girl clubs you would be surprised at all the kids who have no one special to take them places

      • Grace Mischenko Reply

        Find some neighborhood kids to befriend! Many kids don’t have involved grandparents and would love someone to spend time with them! Granted you’d have to build the relationship with their parents first.

  17. Teri Fehringer Reply

    I too would love for you to share what was in the 12 envelopes. Looking for some fun ideas that will make memories with my grandkids that they will remember.

  18. First of all, thanks for sharing a wonderful idea as I like this idea moreover you can pack envelopes and gift them a wonderful thing which they can’t imagine to be. As all of these ideas are new and seems to be interesting in all.

  19. You can always do a workshop at Home Depot, Michaels or other craft stores. Many are free or a minimal cost. We took my grandson (2 yrs) to Home Depot and he built a bird house with his grandpa. He was so excited!!!

    • Michaels had craft days this past summer on Saturdays for different ages. My grandchildren enjoyed it.

  20. James McGill Reply

    “One month it’s bowling and laser tag, complete with tokens to the gaming area. Another month it’s movie tickets. There’s a trip to the horse stables, spending money for a day at Disneyland and tickets to a ball game.” — i AGREE, THE SUGGESTIONS ARE RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE — perhaps the author can rewrite the column taking the suggestions for us poor people, so we don’t have to feel badly about not taking our child to Disneyland

  21. This is not just an idea for kids. Last year I gave my husband a box of Date nights. One each month to be opened on the. First day of the month. He loved it and gets so excited the end of the month to see what next months date night will be. It makes us take at least one night a month out to just do something together. And yes some months were pricy, tickets to a show for example, but one month just a movie, which we hadn’t done in years, one month bowling at a bowling alley we’d never been to, one month just a picnic. It was the best gift ever. Each date comes with a loving letter and he keeps every one in the box I gave it to him in. It started two years ago with just a love letter each month. It takes a lot of time but try it it’s so worth it and I guarantee your significant other will love it.

  22. I am doing this for my adult children. They would enjoy some of the same plus’s we can do adult things.

    • Thank you so much for reminding us of using our wonderful imaginations to celebrate time together with our loved ones and others who need a little time and attention! Many of these suggestions I have actually used in the past as gifts in the Christmas stockings and now this encourages me once again!

  23. My kids are teens so while I was brainstorming ideas that wouldn’t break the bank I came up with another twist. I’m going to sprinkle in some service activities. Like walking dogs at the humane society, making cards and visiting a nursing home, donating time and/or items to a food pantry. I’m not saying every month will be like this but the main thing is spending time together and there’s no reason we can’t help out in the process. I know these specific ideas won’t work for everyone or every age but just wanted to share the idea.

  24. Another idea would be to put money in the envelope that they get to spend on someone else. Teaching kids to be generous is so rewarding! It could be any amount, the idea is that that think outside of the box and help someone who is less fortunate. A cup of coffee, a box of doughnuts, a scented candle….so many ideas. If money is not an option, challenge them to bake something and take it to a shut-in or neighbor. The point is to teach them to have a generous heart. It will bless the recipient an the giver….. WIN/WIN!

  25. This is a neat idea. And it certainly doesn’t have to break the bank. Kids need to get back to simple things like going on a scavenger hunt, buying them a kite and taking them to the park, volunteering to serve a meal at a church or orphanage, learning to play checkers or crochet. The best things are often free and they will remember it always. The gift of time is priceless

    • It can be any price you want. I bought a cute decorated box from a local craft store. I bought some envelopes that fit in it and paper. Now comes the fun part. “ADVENTURES WITH GRAMA” will be given on Christmas and start in the month of January.
      You could do all free things or spend a minimal amount if you use your imagination. Walk in the park, sit out under the stars, bake something together, cook together, play games, color/draw, free concerts, library events. take a ride together and go get ice cream build a fort in your living room and have a sleepover. Offer to read to their class, kids love showing off their grandparents. Pick them up from school and have a special afternoon together. I love talking and listening to my grandkids Sometimes, even at parties, they just want to sit and talk. I am hoping that this desire to share with me will continue even when they are teens and grown. My kids, nieces and nephews, still love talking to my mom, so I am hoping for the same.
      See the world through their incredible young eyes, you won’t be sorry!!

  26. I just started thinking of things this afternoon and have it set for 3 granddaughters, ages, 7, 6 and 3.. Some are GCs to local restaurants. They can invite whoever they want and PART of the bill is covered. For May, I’m doing a mani or pedi with their mom for Mother’s Day. June is breakfast or lunch with Dad – Again, MOSTLY covered by the gift card. March is a kids play at a local theater. Less than $100 per child which is manageable for 3.
    Then free or pretty inexpensive – movie night at my house (you can stream almost anything), baking, sleepover, game night, picnic and walk in the park, a Christmas outing at a local place that REALLY decorates. It gets cold and snowy here so I will take them to our local aquatic center to swim in January or February. We can pretend it is summer and go to a local place for grilled hot dogs.
    BONUS – most of this will support local small businesses!!!
    I have a 7 month old grandson and I will add him in next year. Also, a new baby coming in May so by Christmas 2021, I will be doing this for 5.

  27. This will be my first year doing this, not as grandma but we are doing it as mommy and daddy for our 2 sons, and not every activity is monetary in value. Like she said it’s the time that matters!! One of our activities is a sleepover at grandmas house, fishing at the river, camping in the backyard, and others are monetary in value, train ride to NYC, trip to the zoo, etc. but the biggest idea here is the time spent with each other! This was my most favorite part of Christmas this year, and I hope my boys enjoy it as much as we did preparing it for them!

  28. Diane Rath Reply

    I am not great at getting cards sent timely for out of State nephews. One year, I gave them the 12-months of Christmas. I bought a card each month to be sure to get the seasonal ones during that month. At Christmas time they had a card to open in each upcoming month!. They loved it. Jan a news years one; Feb Valentine, March St Patty’s etc and then the usual birthday month too. It was an act of love as I had to get these cards each month for them and then gift them at the end of the eyar.

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